Prologue - The tumor is isolated. It is cancer but... It is early stage. It is localized. It is operable. It has not spread. I will have surgery this week to remove it. I should be okay.
How do you title a post like this? How do you even write a post like this? Why - is another questions you might ask. The answer to all of them is I don't have a clue. I don't know.
I think I'm writing about this for three reasons.
- It's easier to give people the information.
- I need all the good vibes and thoughts and whatevers as possible.
- I do everything else online, why not have "cancer"?
Here's the story as I know it at this point in time. Things might run together, but it's all in my head and I have to dump it.
I went to my general practitioner in August for a physical and to ask about why I've been tired. I've had insomnia and have also been run down. Yeah they're related. He did the normal things for a physical save for the finger. I have another year until the finger. Yes I'm overweight, no I don't exercise much, etc. He talked to me about the possibility of having sleep apnea, then made a referral to a cardio-pulmonologist.
The pulmonologist asked me a bunch of questions and had me go through a sleep study in October. I didn't get the results until late October or early November, but it turned out that I had sleep apnea. I then got a CPAP machine and tried that. I couldn't get used to using the mask, but kept trying. Meanwhile my sleep didn't improve.
I scheduled a follow up appointment in December to discuss things and to see if there's another mask I could try. At this appointment I decided to ask the doctor about this runny nose and little, irritating cough I get. I have had this for years. Literally 15 or 20 years. I've asked about it over time when I visit the doctor. I've had chest x-rays, allergy tests, asthma tests, etc. Nothing ever came up. But I thought that since I was with a lung specialist, I'd ask one more time.
He listened to my chest and didn't hear anything unusual, but ordered a breathing test and a chest x-ray to see if anything showed up. I had the breathing study later that week and also had the chest x-ray. The breathing study looked good, no asthma, nothing. But the x-ray showed a 3 cm "mass" on or in my lung. I then had a CT scan. This showed that the thing was in my lung. The options were infection, scar tissue, fungus, or tumor. Because of my age and the fact that I've never smoked, the thinking was that it was a fungus. As gross as that sounds, it was fine by me. I then had a PET or PT scan. This is the scan that they do to determine cancer and if it is spread.
The PET scan entails being injected with radioactive glucose. A very small amount of radiation though. "The same amount you are exposed to during a cross-country flight." I guess that cancer cells suck up the glucose and the scan detects this via the radiation that's attached. This is when I started to get scared. The test was isolating and the other people at the lab were chemo patients. My doctor called later that afternoon.
The gist was that the mass "lit up". It was active. It could be cancer, but it also still could be a fungus or even an infection. The good news is that no other area "lit up" meaning that if it was cancer, it hasn't spread. The next step was a biopsy.
I had the biopsy last Tuesday at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz. They were very, very nice. Very cool. They made me feel really comfortable. That's good, because I didn't know what to expect. They checked me in and gave me a room. I was given an IV and went to the radiology area of the hospital. Being rolled around a hospital in a bed was a new experience. The radiologist and the nurse were awesome. They talked me through the entire procedure and told me about possible outcomes. Once they were ready, I layed on my stomach on the CT scanner table. They gave me some drugs and a local. They then stuck a needle in my back to eventually reach the mass. They would go in a little ways, back me up into the scanner for a picture, then go in a little more. They did this several times until they punctured my lung and then into the mass. Once there, they took several samples and got out. I didn't feel much. I had some good drugs and felt pretty relaxed. I had to wait a few hours to make sure my lung wasn't leaking and then I was ready to go.
I was driving in to work on Thursday morning and got a call. I was patched through to the radiologist and he began to tell me that they did find cancer cells. I was on San Thomas Expressway. I didn't pull over. He told me that it was early and that it didn't appear to be growing too fast. That's good. He said that the next step was surgery. They would open me up and take out the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue. He told me that I didn't have to rush to have the surgery because of the nature of the tumor, but understood why I'd want to. It was up to me.
I had been living with the thought/specter of the possibility of having cancer for a month. I've gone through all the scenarios. From the best case to the worst case. I knew that no matter what I thought it would not go down the way I imagined, no matter how I processed it. Reality always has a way of surprising you.
I want this out of me. I could possibly do it at Stanford or at a hospital in San Jose, but I want to be in Santa Cruz. My kids and wife are here, and I felt really comfortable at Dominican. I meet with the surgeon tomorrow. He's supposed to be good. I'm going to trust that.
My hope is that I have surgery Tuesday. This has been stressful. Too stressful and I can't get relief until after the surgery. Well actually they will have to do more testing on the thing. We need to get more information. What is the organ of origin? What is the stage and grade? What type of cancer is it? Knowing this will determine what kind of treatment I may need going forward. Radiation, chemo, what?
My friends and co-workers at Yahoo have been awesome. I know I'm extremely lucky. I also have the community and crew of 12seconds. You guys are amazing!
That's the story. This has been pretty surreal. All I can say is that everyone should go to the doctor and have a physical if you haven't in a while. Then never hesitate to tell your them about any little thing that might be bothering you. I could have easily not bothered to ask my pulmonologist about my runny nose or little cough. It was kind of a fluke. If I hadn't, who knows...? Hopefully from here on out there will be good news, but I'm not going to think about it. If there's ever a time to remain in the moment, this is it.